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Ex-Democratic Party official to be tried on extortion charges

A campaign consultant and former state Democratic Party official accused of trying to extort a former Assembly candidate will face charges in District Court.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa ruled today that there is enough evidence to send Michael Zahara’s case to trial. He is facing one count of felony extortion.

Authorities said Zahara threatened to tell people that Sanje Sedera, originally from Sri Lanka, was a terrorist and a fraud unless he paid Zahara $5,250. Sedera had sought election in Assembly District 2.

Zahara said today that he’s looking forward to going to trial to prove his innocence.

"I’ll be vindicated at trial," he said after Saragosa announced her ruling. "The truth will come out."

Zahara will be arraigned on Nov. 17.

Zahara was a member of the executive board of the Nevada Democratic Party. He didn’t run for another term.

Sedera testified today that he hired Zahara as a campaign consultant earlier this year when he considered running for the Assembly.

He said he paid Zahara a $7,500 retainer and $1,500 monthly salary until the campaign ended.

Sedera said, however, that he wasn’t satisfied with Zahara’s work. Zahara didn’t schedule events for him, send out press releases or coach him on public speaking, he said.

Sedera decided to pull out of the race in early May after a cyclone swept through Myanmar, killing as many as 130,000 people. He said he wanted to refocus his efforts on humanitarian work. He also said that he hadn’t filed the proper paperwork for his candidacy.

After he decided to pull out, Sedera told Zahara that he no longer needed his services. He cut Zahara a final check for $750, which covered about half of May’s salary. Sedera said he believed the relationship ended amicably.

On May 15, Zahara left a notarized letter at Sedera’s house threatening to expose Sedera as a scam artist with ties to terrorists, among other accusations. Sedera, a mortgage banker and broker in Las Vegas since 1996, said he wasn’t intimidated because the accusations were false.

"Whether it was $5 or $1, I didn’t want to be extorted," he said.

Sedera filed a report with the Metropolitan Police Department and spoke to the FBI to assure them he wasn’t a terrorist.

Las Vegas police arrested Zahara in July. He was released on bail.

Sedera said Zahara’s behavior was erratic and at one point he asked a judge to grant a temporary protection order to keep Zahara away from him and his family because he was afraid. The judge, he said, didn’t grant the request.

Zahara’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Adrian Lobo, said the case wasn’t a criminal offense but a civil matter between two men who had a contract dispute. He said Zahara was trying to get money that he believed was owed to him.

Deputy District Attorney Amy Ferreira said the incident might have started as a civil fight, but it graduated to a criminal offense after Zahara made threats and demanded money.

Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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